Sunday, 3 February 2013

The return of non-fluoridated water

So the Cairns Regional Council caved on fluoridation. The Cairns Post reported:
Mayor Bob Manning said the issue divided residents evenly, so the council had looked to the Local Government Association of Queensland's policy on the matter, which says ``involuntary medication'' must not be introduced without community consent.
In this I think our Mayor does capture some of the only argument against fluoridation that has any merit - the right for people to have autonomy over what they consume.  It's an argument that I think falls short given that we are a community with socialised medicine. The costs of fluoridation (economic and some increase in fluorosis) are outweighed by the benefits (particularly to those lower on the socioeconomic ladder). We give up some individual liberty to enjoy the benefits of being in a community.

I don't think this was the only reason for the decision, however. We had a small but noisy anti-fluoridation group conspiracy- and fear-mongering on the issue. We saw the usual misrepresentation of science from wingnuts who apparently believe that august scientific and medical bodies are trying to kill people. I think this will have had some small impact on the decision, even if only to give the false impression of a community more opposed to the measure than it really was.

I suspect a more significant part of the decision came down to economics. The Council saw a cost being imposed upon it the benefit of which would accrue elsewhere. The benefits of fluoridation come to the community and Queensland Health in the form of lower dental and associated health costs (it's not just reduced cavities, but reduced oral cancer for example) in the long term. The Council, not involved in the health sector, saw no benefit to come to it.

Our community as a whole will be poorer in the long term due to the Council's decision, but the Council's finances will look a tiny bit less disastrous.

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